Vanek goal propels Islanders to win over Rangers

NEW YORK -- New York Islanders left wing Thomas Vanek saw his teammates were crestfallen.

So he decided to give them a bit of positive reinforcement the best way he knew how: by scoring a goal.

Vanek's power-play goal 1:18 into the third powered the New York Islanders to a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

"I think right now, the way we've been going, we've been playing a lot of good hockey but we're giving up leads and losing games late," Vanek said. "I think it wears on guys, so when we do get the lead, we almost sit back instead of playing the game we know how to play.

"At the end, I thought we played well and deserved the two points."

Right winger Michael Grabner scored twice and right winger Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Brian Strait also scored for the Islanders, who improved to 10-19-7. Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves.

"For us to have success, we have to get secondary scoring," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "It's big for us and hopefully that will continue as well."

The Rangers fell to 16-18-2, despite receiving goals from left winger Benoit Pouliot, right winger Derek Dorsett and center Derek Stepan.

"It's a little frustrating," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. "We are trying to do the right thing, trying to get the job done and play with the lead, but unfortunately we didn't tonight."

Tied at 3, and on a 5-on-3 power play to start the third due to Rangers right winger Chris Kreider and defenseman Dan Girardi in the box for interference, Vanek deftly tipped right winger Kyle Okposo's centering feed from the point under Henrik Lundqvist for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

"It's just a play we work on," Vanek said. "It's something that I've been doing for years. Kyle sold the shot (well), made a shot/pass over and had a good tip on it; (Lundqvist) actually made a good save, just went through him."

Lundqvist allowed four goals on 15 shots.

"Those are grade-A chances," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said of the goals Lundqvist allowed. "I'm sure he tried the best that he could but he just couldn't make the save."

Vanek's goal capped a wild, back-and-forth affair that saw both teams trade scoring chances and momentum swings throughout.

The Islanders went into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead due to scoring two shorthanded goals in a span of 3:27. Clutterbuck was awarded a penalty shot with 5:18 left in the period after Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was called for hooking him on a breakaway, and snapped a low shot that eluded Lundqvist in the ensuing one-on-one.

Three minutes and 27 seconds later, the lead was 2-0 after Grabner scored his first goal since opening night, and just his third of the season, on an unassisted breakaway. The play began with Grabner taking the puck away from McDonagh in the defensive zone, and using his world-class speed to create the scoring chance.

"We had a pretty good game plan going in, how to use our speed and how to create our forecheck," Grabner said. "I think it worked pretty (well)."

The Islanders lead lasted for 30 seconds.

Pouliot's power-play goal 30 seconds later cut the deficit in half. His fourth of the season concluded a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Kreider and center Derick Brassard.

Dorsett drew the Rangers even three minutes into the second period with an off-angled shot that eluded Nabokov, who was partially screened by Rangers center Brian Boyle. Dorsett's goal, his third of the season, marked the third time in three games that the Rangers tied an opponent after falling behind by two goals.

The Islanders had an opportunity midway through the second to regain a two-goal advantage and, naturally, it occurred while shorthanded. Twelve seconds after Clutterbuck was called for cross-checking Dorsett, Grabner broke in on Lundqvist but his wrist shot hit the crossbar.

"I think I had a pretty good move," Grabner said. "I guess I put it too high."

It proved costly when Stepan's power-play goal 1:06 later gave the Rangers their first lead of the game, 3-2.

It didn't last.

Strait tied the game at 3-3 three minutes and eight seconds later with his first of the season. It stayed that way until Vanek's game-winner.

Grabner added an empty-netter with 50 seconds remaining.

The Islanders went 1-for-4 on the power play. The Rangers finished 2-for-7 with the man advantage.

"We got unlucky a little bit on the power play," Vigneault said. "We gave the team that has a tremendous amount of speed in their penalty killers grade-A scoring chances and they made us pay for it."

The rivals meet three more times this season. Two of those games will be contested at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 21 and Jan. 31.

NOTES: The Islanders entered Friday night's game having lost 13 of their last 15. "We've lost some games, obviously. Some tough losses," Capuano said after his team's morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "We have to try to find a way (to win). Some of the ways we've been losing is tough to explain." ... Rangers C J.T. Miller began the game centering a line with Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot. "(Assistant Jim Schoenfeld) and I talked to (AHL Hartford Wolfpack coach Ken Gernander) and (he said]) J.T. was playing well, real well, at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "They were using him at center and we just felt, after discussing where we (are) at this time, it might be a good time to give him a look. With the (NHL holiday roster) freeze, he's here until at least (Dec. 27)." ... With the start, Henrik Lundqvist took sole possession of third place on the Rangers all-time list for goaltender appearances with 539. Only Mike Richter (666) and Gump Worsley (582) have played in more games as a Ranger than Lundqvist. ... Before the game, the Rangers unveiled the jerseys they will wear at the Jan. 26 and Jan. 29 Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium against the Islanders and New Jersey Devils, respectively.